‘This one simple sutra, Change your breath, change your mind. Change your mind, change your emotions - I felt if we could spread this thing, the universe would be a different place’. And that is exactly what Rajshree continues to do close to 25 years after this pearl of wisdom first dawned in her mind.
‘I was born in Uganda’ began Rajshree, in a clear and confident voice. She could have said, ‘I was born in jupiter’ and the listener would be forced to agree. What is it about her presence that is so powerful? Perhaps the events in her life would throw some light on this mystery.
‘When I was about 5 or 6, my father happened to hear about a vision that there was going to be a coup in the country. So for that one reason and for education we, the kids and our mother, were moved to a small village in Gujarat and he was to follow. He stayed back to bring our money but unfortunately got caught in the coup. They kicked him out of Uganda and he lost everything.
We were staying with my mother's mother (grandmother) but I somehow always felt that I didn't fit there, in a small town in Gujarat. We never knew if my dad was alive, safe. There were all sorts of rumors floating. One day a person came and told my mom to come fast to the post office. I was doing my homework as she ran out. When she came back she looked happy, there was a glow in her eyes, her cheeks flushed and she told me "Papa has made it to America". The Red Cross had pulled him out of Uganda and put him in New York. My dad reached America, with no clothes or no idea about the place and he was sort of starting all over again. The Red Cross gave my dad trousers, shoes, socks and he re-started his life there.
Soon, the family would be together again. This was the expectation. However, Rajshree, from a young age, was outspoken, independent and a rebel of sorts. This was in striking contrast to the shy, and submissive demeanour that an Indian woman of good upbringing is supposed to possess. Perhaps for this reason, her father thought it better to raise her in India, not America.
He took my brothers and mom back to US and I wrote a letter to my father saying "If you don't take me to US, I am going to be a bad girl and cut class." I forgot about it then, but within 3 months I was in the US for a short visit supposedly. He tried to bribe me, clothes, hair ribbons, shoes, bags, pens, but I said I am not going back to India. I guess I became ‘American’ in the way I think. The very thing my dad was afraid of, I already was. Very outspoken, independent, I didn't buy the system that existed. My father was worried already about who would marry me.
It is rare for a 14 year old girl to stand-up against prevailing customs in a conservative small village of Gujarat. The result could range from surprise to shock.
Once, my mom's sister was getting married and in Gujarat, in those days, there was a practice of the bride’s family having to offer dowry to the groom’s family. Every time the couple would go around the fire, the bride’s family would give something - watch, gold… I was on the top of the roof watching. Suddenly in the middle of the ceremony the groom’s mother said,’ we don't want A. We want B. Else this wedding will not happen’. My grandmother couldn't afford what was being demanded and the family was obviously in a tight spot. At that point, I shouted from the top, "We don't want to sell our maasi, take your son and go away from here. You should be giving us money!” My uncle came running to me and dragged me away!
Re-united with her family in America, Rajshree wanted to be a bio-medical scientist and make limbs for people. But at 17, 14 more years of study was far too long for her father who wanted her to be married first. So she became a lawyer.
“I didn't know what a lawyer did, till I was in the third year. Then someone told me, lawyers can do anything, have their own business, they can do contracts - so what registered in my mind was that I could do anything I wanted, as a lawyer. It was this promise of variety that enticed me.
Somehow I became a federal lawyer (for the government). I worked with the US Attorney Office and then I left and joined the LA state attorney's office . I liked my job - it was a people oriented profession. You don't have time to think. You walk into office and they give you a lot of files. On the way to court you are reading the case files. Then the witnesses come, police come, witnesses keep changing their story. A lot of violent cases come - drugs, abuse, and murder. I often considered their circumstances before recommending any punishment. Depending on the situation I would push or pull my argument. I would at times, let them go. It is a very’ for the moment’ profession. It requires a lot of clarity.”
While Rajshree was immersed in her work, her father was eager to get her married and had her meet and speak with prospective grooms and their families.
“I would meet whoever my father told me to. If the guy's people would ask do you know how to cook, I would say don't worry, we will take your mother along with us. I had an answer for everything! Everyone gets married, has kids and doesn't look particularly thrilled. It seemed a burden - but at the same time I knew I somehow had to.
I was looking to fit in somewhere. When I say fit - I don't mean in a trite sense - I felt there was something bigger to life. As a young child I could say it was in a small social sense. By the time I was a lawyer, nothing made sense. America didn't make sense, India didn't, being Indian in the USA didn't make sense and yet everything somehow together made sense… but there was a gap’.
There was a bookstore in LA called The Bodhi tree and I used to go there. They have photos of several saints on the wall - I would look at them and in my mind argue with them; I would ask - what is the point of hanging from a wall? If only you had come into my life perhaps there would have been a difference. I wanted to know more and I never thought it would be possible.
I was at work. Dad had just called about another marriage prospect. I was struggling with this and several other thoughts when I saw magazine, pages stained with coffee, lying on the floor. I picked it up to put it in the dustbin when a 1 inchX1 inch ad announcing a public event with Pundit Ravi Shankar, Vedic Master, caught my eye. In retrospect, the magazine was perhaps an answer to my prayer. I called the organizers to reserve a seat thinking that he was the musician and I anyways needed to fit in somewhere and perhaps the concert would help.
I had no idea what Vedic system meant. I thought it was a type of music. Over the phone they said he is an enlightened master. Enlightenment for me meant an expert. I knew the musician was 70 years old and the picture was like that of a 15 year old. However, I rationalized that perhaps musicians liked to advertise pictures of when they were younger. I went to the public gathering. There was a water bottle, a table, a few flowers - it did not seem like a stage for a music concert. I again justified to myself saying that Indians do not prepare on time.
I don't remember much from that talk. Every time I felt that Guruji looked at me, I would hide behind someone. I was thinking - what if He is from one of those pictures on the wall of The Bodhi Tree- how would I know? I had an intense sensation in my heart region - which I think was from this question. Then someone asked the question,’ How do we know you are the real master?’ His reply was, you cannot hide from the master. You will have a glimpse - and then you will hold on to the glimpse because the mind will go back. I started crying for some unknown reason. I cannot describe it - but maybe it could be the word 'longing'. At that time, I would have called it - sadness without a cause. It was bitter sweet. There was something sweet in the tears. This was probably what my mother felt when she knew father was safe in America, the same as I had felt when I saw my father waiting with his arms wide open to receive me in the airport when I came from India. It is the love that gives you the feeling, ‘I’ve arrived, and I’m home’.
I did the course and had an experience in the kriya that I suppose is a metaphysical experience. The concrete experience was what translated at work in three weeks. After the course I would process files much faster. Files which took 4 hours earlier, maybe I would do it in an hour. After the course, in 3 weeks’ time - what happened was - there were 4 lawyers - I would do 30 files by myself - others would do maybe 10 or 11. I would put together the file without knowing it.
Immediately afterwards I attended the advanced course and it was magical. This one simple sutra -"Change your breath, change your mind. Change your mind, change your emotions", I felt if we could spread this thing, the universe would be a different place. It was unbelievable - breath, mind and emotions are related.
Her journey as a teacher began in UK and soon brought her to India. However, teaching was as much a learning process for her – learning to drop her inhibitions, extend her limits, and move closer to being unconditional.
“I flew with Guruji to Bangalore. We got the window seat. He would look out and say Bangalore is such a beautiful place - gardens, green - you will love Bangalore. I came and I saw it was all cement, at least no garden. I was supposed to stay in Gyan Mandir. I took a room and as I attempted to settle, Guruji would ask me to change the room. He would say give this room to the visitor and you go to that room. I was endlessly changing rooms till one day, I gave up and stopped unpacking my stuff from the suitcase and then he stopped asking me to move rooms and moved me from Bangalore to Gujarat”.
The series of courses that Rajshree taught from this point onwards, in Gujarat, Bombay and Kolkata – these courses connected many young seekers to their Guru. These seekers are now Art of Living teachers making the universe a better place. It is indeed a blessing when the fruits of our actions grow manifold in front of our eyes and bring more happiness to the planet that we had ever dreamed of. Perhaps this is the magic of being the instrument of a Master.
‘End of 1989 or early 1990 I arrived and in September 1995, he asked me to move on from India. I went to Hong Kong, Japan, South America, Trinidad. Then I came to US and started centers in a few cities there and I continue to travel. '
When the journey is so beautiful, one wonders if the journey itself is the goal!